Two strategic urban plans selected by researchers as good practice in urban planning policy could do so much more to improve liveability for all residents.

The study conducted by researchers from Flinders University and the University of Sydney made in-depth assessments of the Thirty Year Plan for Greater Adelaide 2017 (TYPGA) and the New South Wales Long Term Transport Master Plan 2012 (NSWLTMP). While the Adelaide plan came up short in fully addressing social and health issues due to a bias towards economic progress, the NSW plan was narrowly focussed on transportation improvement rather than ensuring equitable access for all and raising social determinants of health.

The World Health Organisation states that the social determinants of health are the conditions in which people are born, grow, work, live, and age, and the wider set of forces and systems shaping the conditions of daily life.

Observing that the Adelaide plan had the potential to support a range of important socio-economic factors, Professor Fran Baum, director of the Southgate Institute for Health, Society and Equity at Flinders University said that the emphasis on increasing liveability as a means of enhancing global image can see public infrastructure investments being diverted away from outer suburbs towards more affluent suburbs with the best global connections.

Co-lead author Dr Michael McGreevy says the NSW plan’s goal of creating a polycentric city connected by a networked public transport system also has the potential to improve health, healthy equity and social inclusion. However, by prioritising the need to reduce congestion and average travel times, infrastructure funds may get diverted from projects that facilitate equitable access to those that facilitate car travel over other modes.

“In particular, investing in roads, particularly urban freeways, reduces walking, cycling and public transport use and increases average vehicle kilometres travelled, which leads to more pollution, more road trauma, more time spent in cars, less physical activity and poorer population health.

“It tends to favour public transport investments that are best able to clear traffic in specific areas at specific times of day by encouraging people with cars to take alternative means, not improve metropolitan access for residents without cars,” McGreevy says.

Urging policy-makers to take a fresh look at urban planning, Baum says, “In the right political climate, liveability can provide an avenue for the advancement of policies to support the social determinants of health. Outer suburbs, which are disproportionally populated by people who are less well-off, have worse health status and would benefit most from more ‘liveable’ suburbs, but are not often afforded the same attention or potential resources investments into liveability.

“The findings also found planning for the future transport needs of Sydney prioritised reducing road congestion over and above liveability, and with the often-explicit goal of facilitating the global competitiveness of the city.”

The Southgate Institute is partnering with state and local government and community groups at the Healthy South Summit at Flinders University on 29 November 2019, where Baum and an expert panel will present a 20-year vision for the future of Adelaide’s southern suburbs.